Nothing is as heartbreaking as hearing your spouse say, "I don't love you anymore."
"I can hardly imagine any more excruciating words," says licensed clinical psychologist and social worker Dr. David Hawkins in his excellent book, LOVE LOST: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage. In this desperately needed book, Hawkins offers a roadmap for recovery for those who have separated, are reconciling, or divorcing, born of his experiences working with hurting couples. Most importantly, he walks the reader down the difficult road of acknowledging and grieving losses.
"What exactly happens when love unravels?" asks Hawkins. "Why is it so devastatingly painful?"
Hawkins avoids easy answers. There is no quick fix, no sugarcoating of the pain that will be endured. Marital separation means that spouses will endure a season of grief, of severe loss. "You will not be the same again." He doesn't pretend that all marriages will be healed and he refuses to sidestep the fact. Rather, he serves up a healthy portion of compassion, liberally salted with reality.
"As a small consolation, you should know that others have walked this path and survived," writes Hawkins. "You join many others who have wrestled with rejection and come away stronger than ever. You and your partner can, with diligence, focus on the problems, find solutions, and create a new life --- perhaps together, possibly not."
Hawkins gives the reader tools to survive the rollercoaster ups and downs of marital separation. Deftly, he weaves together the spiritual with the physical, emotional, and mental ramifications of trying to deal with a broken marriage. One bit of insight: "During divorce, 85 percent of your energy goes to emotional coping. The remaining 15 percent goes to the other areas combined. That's why, running low on spiritual energy, you have trouble praying; low on mental energy, you have trouble concentrating; low on physical energy, you feel exhausted."
As well as proffering his own hard-earned wisdom, he also mines other marital experts for their best material. Laudably, he's not afraid to counsel antidepressants if overwhelming stress causes a biochemical imbalance. He emphasizes healthy boundaries. He discusses how your church may not support your decision to separate or divorce, and why it is important to find an effective support network of faith. And he's frank about the attraction of sex while separated: our need for touch, for affirmation, for someone to tell us we're attractive. "Who can blame us for looking for an escape from agony? But ultimately, the only true escape is going through the grief with the Lord by your side."
Rather than rushing the reader to decisions, he emphasizes a time of waiting before action, a time of grieving our losses. "Although waiting goes against our natural instincts to scurry about and try to fix everything immediately, we need to allow ourselves time to be still to collect our thoughts," he writes. "Look to the Lord and in the quiet hear the loving voice that soothes and comforts." We have to sit with our grief before we can move forward.
His advice is down-to-earth. How do you move beyond anger? He offers concrete suggestions. What friends should I be vulnerable with? What about finances? How do I explain what's happening to my children? How much detail do I give my parents? Hawkins has a lovely way with words, and delivers his practical advice with verve and style. Subheads keep the text organized and specific areas of interest easy to locate. Hawkins's tone is always calm and unhurried.
Hawkins takes the concrete advice a step beyond just coping, and advises spiritual disciplines as well, such as making time for solitude and journaling. He also peppers his text with scenarios from his counseling practice, which personalizes the advice.
Despite the grief and despair of marital separation and divorce, there is light glimmering in the darkness. All of the difficulties endured will be redeemed, he believes. "One day you will know why life's events have occurred as they have," writes Hawkins, adding later, "The Lord uses all life experiences, even love lost, to refine our lives. He wants to see his reflection in us. Understanding and accepting this refining process can transform utter agony into a purposeful and rewarding struggle."
Those dealing with separation, reconciliation, divorce, or those who have a friend or loved one in this situation will find solid, practical advice here.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on April 1, 2005